As the Dust Settles
Chapter One: Disclosure
Han Solo paced back and forth in an empty corridor of Home One, the newly formed New Republic's Flagship Frigate. Finally deciding to sit on one of the empty benches flanking the walls of the corridor, Han lowered himself down and rested his elbows on his knees. Down the hall he watched a maintenance man slowly scraping away at the words 'The Alliance to Restore the' from the door to the conference room.
They had done it.
Of all the years he had spent with the Rebels, Han could never honestly say that he thought he would ever see this day. The more time he spent with them, the more he had hoped they would somehow persevere, but a certain ingrained realism prevented him from visualizing this seemingly impossible victory. That had all changed a few days ago, when against all odds his friends and the woman that he loved had rescued him from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt and the empty, frozen darkness of carbonite.
Whether or not he truly believed that the Rebels would pull off yet another magnificent coop against the Empire and destroy yet another Death Star didn't matter. He was in. He had joined their forces to sink or swim. Failing with them became much better than watching them fail without him. Had he done it for the woman that he loved? To repay her for all that she had sacrificed to save him? Not entirely. It was much bigger than the both of them and the both of them knew that.
But now they had won and they - the princess and a guy like him - had become bigger than anything else. At least to him. Mere seconds after their victory he had been willing to step aside for her happiness and Han still thanked the goddess that Luke was, by some miracle, her brother. During the celebration, everything seemed somehow more incredible with her at his side. She seemed just as leery of letting him out of her sight as he did of letting her out of his. His only complaint of last evening being the dozen or so rebels that had ended up sleeping on the Falcon, which had prevented any celebratory fun for him and the Princess.
Not that that would have stopped him.
Han sighed as he read the remaining words 'store the Republic' on the door that the maintenance man slowly tended to. He had just escaped from a five hour long meeting that had dragged him out of his bunk early that morning. Five hours of talking about plans and the path forward for the New Republic including charts and graphs and speeches about the vision of their future. All things he really wanted to discuss with Leia.
Han knew that this one victory did not mean the war was automatically won. He didn't expect to sign up and then quit once the celebration was over, either. He had committed and he fully intended to work with the Rebels - or the New Republic - to restore peace and prosperity throughout the galaxy. But the galaxy was a very large place and the New Republic was a well-organized government. They could take care of themselves. Give Han his marching orders and be done.
But he and Leia, they were a different story. They had barely confessed their love to one another before they were cruelly torn apart. Then, Han had hardly wiped the sleep out of his eyes before they pinned the General's insignia on him and sent him on his way. Now, after a few dances, several lingering hugs and a few kisses, they were separated yet again.
Han glanced back towards the conference room door. The only word left was 'Republic' and the maintenance man began lining up the additional letters of 'The New'. Han ran his finger in between his collar and his neck, his uniform suddenly itching.
Admittedly for Han there was not much to discuss. He loved her and was willing to do anything to be with her. Although he had come to reluctant terms with the fact that these first several months would have them going in separate directions, he hoped that his General's rank would eventually allow him to perform more tactical type work from headquarters or the Capital City; certainly wherever Leia would be. But Han had been around the galaxy one too many times to let himself believe that it would be that easy.
Would the New Republic keep them apart as they were already doing today? Or would Leia have doubts about the two of them forging a future together? Did she even entertain thoughts of a relationship with the reformed smuggler post her "Alliance to Restore the Republic" days? He certainly wanted at least some tentative answers on all of these fronts before they were separated yet again.
His search for answers was what brought him here, lingering in an empty corridor while the rest of the Rebels mapped out their future. He wanted to chart out his own future, at least roughly, with the woman that defined the word future for him.
Han's stomach turned and rumbled but was overshadowed when his heart leapt up into his throat at the sound of the conference room door finally swooshing open.
Han stood up, straightened his posture (a habit he found came hand in hand with wearing a general's uniform) and waited. Watching and nodding greetings to each person who exited the room, Han was not surprised that Leia was one of the last to appear before him.
She was walking and talking as she entered the now crowded corridor and she came to an abrupt halt when she caught sight of him. Flashing a quick half smile at him, she turned to her counterpart, finished their conversation and then walked towards the awaiting General.
Wanting nothing more than to scoop her up in his arms and kiss her madly, Han restrained himself and settled for a respectful, "Princess," mixed with a crooked, devilish grin. The smell of her perfume assaulted his senses before her response hit his ears.
"General," she replied with a nod and a smile as her eyes darted up and down the corridor. Apparently satisfied with the continuing retreat of her colleagues, she took another step towards him and asked, "What are you doing here?"
He stared at her a moment, letting her nearness sink in. This was not exactly the greeting he would have liked on several levels, but he understood this side of her, so he switched gears and replied, "There's an Imperial Garrison that refuses to surrender on Kashyyyk. Chewie wants to join in the fight and…I'd like to go with him - to lead the mission."
He watched her look at him and as it became more and more apparent that she didn't intend to respond, he added, "I'm expected back with an answer…and I wanted to talk to you first."
"Of course," Leia said as she shook her head, apparently coming out of her stupor. "Of course, you should go." The couple both gave a polite nod to a passerby and then Leia added, "When will you leave?"
"Mon Mothma has agreed to send the Rogue Squadron for support. We should be assembled and ready to go in no more than a week." He watched as her eyes glazed over and he imagined he could hear the wheels inside of her head spinning like the gears on the Falcon when she slips into hyperdrive. Frowning, he took her by the arm and led her back into the conference room she had just vacated, before he asked, "What's the matter?"
Visibly relaxing in the privacy of the now empty conference room, Leia answered him in a low voice, as if her words deserved no better than a whisper, "I wanted to go somewhere. I was wondering if you could take me."
Thoroughly confused by her behavior and now very strange request, he responded, "Where to?"
"Alderaan," she answered quickly and then looking down and away from him, she added, "I wanted to see…"
Some of her behavior, if not her request, making sense now, Han took a step towards her and as she looked up to him he asked, "Are you sure?"
"Yes," she answered, finally finding her voice. And then as if she was inquiring about a routine supply run, she added, "How long will it take?"
Raising his eyes up to the ceiling and taking a long deep breath, Han quickly worked out some rough calculations, none of which had anything to do with parsecs or hyperspace. He looked back down at this unsolved mystery of a woman and answered, "Three or four days."
"Will you take me? Do you have enough time?"
A lump formed in his throat and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Ignoring these internal warning signs, Han swallowed, nodded his head slowly and said, "Yeah. Sure."
The Falcon eased out of hyperspace smoothly, unlike the last time Han Solo had piloted her to Alderaan. Using the coordinates from New Republic intel, the ship settled into real space just outside of the swirling debris that had once been Leia's home planet.
It only took a day and a half to reach Alderaan but that had been plenty enough time for Han to realize that his and Leia's relationship was not where he thought it was or wanted it to be. Her behavior only grew more and more perplexing as he tried his very best not to push her too hard to talk to him, or kiss him, or for all the nine hells of Corellia – to make love to him. Sleeping next to him in his bunk, Leia might as well have been a million parsecs away.
They had barely even kissed.
Han heard the click of Leia releasing her crash webbing and turned to watch her stand and look out the viewport in silence. Lifting himself out of his pilot's chair, he stood next to her for a quiet moment. Shifting his weight from one foot to another, Han wondered if the sound of his creaking joints was disturbing Leia's concentration. Clearing his throat, he finally asked, "You want me to leave ya alone?"
"No, I want you here," she responded without ever taking her eyes off of the view in front of her. Han followed Leia's gaze out of the viewport but his attention kept drawing him back to her profile in front of him. She looked so much older now then when he had first met her. The ten years between them had seemingly vanished. Han was no fool, he knew exactly what had aged her so quickly over the short time he knew her. Clenching his fist, he silently swore to protect her from that kind of heartache for the rest of his life.
After a long period of silence she began to shake her head back and forth as if unwilling to believe what she saw. When she finally spoke it was in a low, throaty whisper and she said, "I'll never…I'll never get all the answers. I don't understand anything anymore. I don't understand…"
Not knowing just what to say or exactly what she was talking about, Han took a step to stand behind her. Placing his hands on her upper arms, he felt her trembling beneath him. As he began to gently rub his hands up and down her arms from her elbows to her shoulders, he joined her in her silent vigil. What answers could she expect to get from the atrocity set out before them? Han found himself shaking his head back and forth in disbelief as he watched her broken planet spin busily before them.
Unlike the jumbled mass of rocks that the Falcon had landed in the midst of all those years ago, the bits of debris had organized themselves into a parade of sorts, spinning along its spiraled path; one behind another on a journey to nowhere. As Han tried to imagine all those pieces coming back together to form a living, breathing world of mountains and lakes and sentient beings, Leia broke the long silence and said, "They made me watch."
He stilled his hands and looked at the back of her head. It was no longer moving back and forth and Han followed her loosely wound braid as it hung down the back of her neck and curled over her shoulder and out of sight. Not wanting the answer he knew would accompany the question, he pushed the word out of his mouth, his voice timid and low as he asked, "What?"
She turned around in his arms and as she looked up into his eyes, she said, "Vader. And Tarkin. They made me watch." Staring at him for a quiet moment, she added, "I've never told anyone that."
The need to swallow overwhelmed him and it actually hurt when he finally did. It was as if he was swallowing the words she had just told him and they hurt going down his throat as much as they must have hurt coming up through hers. She was watching him as if gauging his reaction to her news and finally finding his voice he croaked out, "I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I had no idea."
"I thought…" she said, looking up towards the ceiling of the tiny cockpit. Han watched the tears build up in the corners of her eyes. She looked back down at him and swallowed as if digesting her unvoiced words. Her lips parted as if she might let them crawl back up again, but then she closed her mouth quickly, biting her lower lip as she turned back around and stared out the viewport, leaving her unfinished thought hanging in the air between them and weighing on his mind.
Bastards. He thought to himself as he stood behind her, unsure of what comfort to give. Unable to find any words that seemed sufficient, he just stood there, hoping his presence was comfort enough.
She began to shake her head and he tried to imagine what was going through her mind. She looked down at her hands as she started to speak again, "I thought that would be the hardest thing I would ever have to say out loud. I've kept it inside of me for all these years. But now…"
Han watched her spin around to look at him and his breath caught in his throat. Silent tears were streaming down her cheeks and the shattered look on her face brought him back to a smoky orange platform in a city in the clouds.
"What is it?" Han asked her, stepping towards her and grabbing her shoulders in desperation. She seemed unable to speak, as if in shock. He finally pulled her to him, wrapped his strong arms around her and whispered, "It's okay, sweetheart. You don't have to say anything."
They had talked about her internment on the Death Star, about her interrogation with Vader and she had assured him that nothing had been done to her physically. This new revelation, albeit still not physical torture, made Han wonder just what else had been done to her that she had not found the courage to share with him.
And what answers was she searching for? When they had first arrived it almost seemed to be about Alderaan and her family, not the Death Star and her imprisonment. As he felt Leia's body begin to tremble violently within his arms, Han pulled away from her and with a new desperation in his voice he looked her in the eyes and said pleadingly, "Sweetheart?"
Leia looked as if she may be sick as Han watched her open her mouth, but it was words that began to fall out of her mouth as she said, "There's more to what Luke told me on the bridge that night." Han furrowed his brow. "More than just that we're twins."
Squeezing his hands at her shoulders, Han swallowed and said, "Honey, what? What could be-"
"He knows who our father was."
She turned away from him and looking down at her hands again she whispered, "And…I want you to know that I won't blame you…"
Han's mind spun, unable to race to any conclusions, he pleaded, "Leia, c'mon, what is it?" He watched the back of her head again, the slight movement of the long, loose braid hanging down the middle of her back his only indication that she was crying.
As her attention turned back towards the cruel reminder outside of the viewport, he joined her as they silently watched the floating pieces of Alderaan dance in front of them. He barely heard her whisper one word out into the darkness, "Vader."
He did not say a word.
Trying to quickly process the flow of their entire conversation, Han felt a wave of nausea wash over him as it all, horribly and inexplicably, fell into place.
She spoke softly into his silence, "His name was Anakin Skywalker. He was… a Jedi before…before he became…" Her head fell down into her hands and she sobbed. Han reached out and turned her around as he pulled her into his arms and stroked her hair as she cried, "He tortured me. He destroyed…" And then wrenching herself out of his embrace, she forced herself to look up at him as she croaked out, "He tortured you…"
This can't be true, he thought to himself as he looked at the shattered expression on her face. He let out a deep breath and then tilted his head to one side and let a small frown creep across his lips. How can I protect her from a galaxy that makes this possible? Did she come here for answers from her father? Answers she would never get, apparently because of her real father?
All of her actions and the distance between them now making sense to him, he studied her face and he realized something else. Taking her cheek into his hand, he wiped her tears away with his thumb and said softly, "This doesn't change anything for me." She let out a tiny breath and her eyes searched his face for the truth in his words. Knowing where her thoughts had been taking her, he took a step towards her and placed his other hand on the opposite cheek and with his frown slowly turning into a small smile, he said, "Leia, I love you."
For a split second she seemed ready to believe him, but then the cloud of doubt settled back over her face and she shook her head, turned away from him and looked out of the viewport once again.
After another agonizingly long silence, Han heard her voice crack as she said, "I'm almost sure Breha had no idea. But Bail…" He watched her shaking her head as she looked out at what remained of Alderaan, as if the longer she sat there and shook her head in denial the less it would be true. Finally she spoke in a whisper and said, "Everything he said, everything…it all makes sense now. So much more sense." She turned to face him and with a look that begged for him to have the answers, she asked, "How could he bring me home to her? How could he bring me into his home knowing what I was? What I was capable of becoming?" And then dropping her eyes as if in defeat she whispered, "How could he have ever loved me?"
Running his hand along the side of her face and landing on her shoulder, he said, "Sweetheart, you were a baby. Not a krayt dragon."
Her head snapped back up to him and Han saw a fire flicker in her eyes as her voice rose and she argued, "But I'm...I'm his flesh and blood! That… That…monster-"
"Has taken enough away from you!" He finished her sentence as he placed his other hand on her shoulder, ensuring he had her full attention, before adding, "He's stolen too many years from you already, Leia. Don't let him continue from the grave."
He took a step towards her and moved his arms to pull her to him but she bristled, shook her head and said, "I don't know anymore."
His heart fell. What did she not know anymore exactly? About her feelings for him? They looked at each other in silence and he whispered, "I love you. Don't find reasons to push me away."
She nodded her head half-heartedly and then turning away from him she said, "You need time to think." Looking down at her hands she added, "I think this time apart will be good for us."
Han felt as if he had just been punched in the gut. He had accepted the mission to lead the battle of Kashyyyk. Accepted it with Leia's blessing, knowing that it could mean several weeks, if not months apart for them. They had just gotten back together and now she was orchestrating their time apart. After all they had been through how did they end up here? "Leia don't do this," he said pleadingly, but she didn't acknowledge him and he just stood there once again staring out the viewport, looking for answers now just as much as Leia was.
Han's mind raced, trying to reconcile this new reality that had just been thrown into his lap. Realizing that she had had days to digest it and saddened at what conclusions that time had allowed her to draw, he finally spoke and his voice had a stern determination to it as he said, "I won't go to Kashyyyk."
"No, you have to go," she responded quickly and turning around to face him, she looked up at him and said, "And I want you to know that if you think things over and-"
"I will come back for you," he cut off her train of thought and then added, "You hear me?"
She nodded her head and let him gather her up in his arms.
Knowing why Leia had been acting so strangely towards him had certainly helped Han deal with their very chilled love life. And as he held her in his arms now, alone in the lounge of the Millennium Falcon, he knew he should be enjoying this kiss they were heatedly sharing. But, as he felt her desperately pulling him towards her and even as he responded to her probing tongue with his own, sadly, passion was not the emotion that continued to stir inside of him.
Finally breaking for air, she looked up at him and he noticed she was biting her lip. Trying to ignore the tightening in his chest, he ran his finger along her jaw line as he said, "You kiss me like you don't expect to see me again."
Her bottom lip was immediately set free and as it rolled out from under her teeth, red and swollen both from their marathon kiss and Leia's nervous habit, she replied "Anything…," and then she stopped, as if her throat wouldn't release the lie she was about to tell, "could happen."
"You know, for a politician, you're a terrible liar," he said with a gentle smile.
Their time together since she had told him about Vader had been erratic at best. Han never had to wonder again what it might look like if someone held a smashball tournament inside of their heads, having seen the Princess of Alderaan volley thoughts and anxieties and fears back and forth inside of her skull at lightening speeds. He had held her and assured her and tried his best to understand her. In the end he knew he would have to leave it to fate, something he didn't hold much stock in.
Her attempt to attribute her desperate kiss to a fear that he may get killed in combat only served to feed into Han's indecision on leaving her at all. But for all that Chewie had done for him, Han knew that he must leave to fight alongside of his friend to free his planet and his family.
So here they stood, saying their goodbyes. Letting out a resigned sigh, he finally added, "Nothing will keep me from coming back to you."
She blinked and a heavy tear fell down her cheek. She didn't even move to wipe it away, but whispered desperately instead, "I don't deserve you."
In what reality does a Princess whisper such words to cocky smuggler from Corellia? Han shook his head and smiled, "I know," and as he caught her next tear with his finger, he added, "I'm a giant pain in the ass." And then, pulling her into his arms he said, "But you're stuck with me, Your Highness."
"I love you," she responded through muffled sobs and he felt her snake her arms around his waist, squeezing him tightly.
"I know," he said as he pulled her away from him and kissed her. Hard and passionately and long and desperately, and this time was different than before and he hoped she could tell. When they broke for air he lowered his forehead to hers and whispered, "I love you, too."
A long, low growl from the cockpit finally separated the two. Knowing that following her down to the hangar floor would only lead to yet another goodbye, he hugged her and kissed her one last time and then watched her walk away.
Punching the code in to raise the gangway, Han waited and listened for the signature swoosh of the air pressure system pressurizing his sealed ship. The final thump of the locking mechanism jarred the spacer back to reality and he turned on his heel and headed for the cockpit.
Sliding into the pilot's seat, Han eyes slowly roamed over the Falcon's control board. A wave of panic hit him as everything looked foreign to his blurry eyes. And while he sluggishly performed the pre-flight warm-ups, his co-pilot offered to find the long-lost user manual for him if he needed it. A reluctant chuckle cleared his head somewhat and the two friends spun the Falcon around and headed for the expanse of space.
As he pulled the lever that catapulted them in to hyperspace, Han felt the space between him and Leia extrapolating astoundingly, as if every parsec placed between them represented some immeasurable emotional distance. He could only wonder what the addition of time would do to that calculation…